KESTON NEWS SERVICE
Issue 6, Article 26, 29 June 2000

Immediate reporting on violations of religious liberty and on religion in
communist and post-communist lands.
______________________________________

Thursday 29 June 2000
RUSSIA: ABSENCE MAKES THE CASE GO SLOWER

by Tatyana Titova, Keston News Service

The legal case to liquidate the Pentecostal Church of Christ in the town of
Cheboksary has again been postponed. The hearing, which was due to have
taken place on 28 June after a five-month adjournment (see KNS 23 June
2000), was again postponed because the representative of the procuracy failed
to appear. Also invited to take part in the hearing were the specialists who had
concluded that the church had harmed the health of citizens, but they too failed
to appear. The case will not now resume in court until at least September as the
Justice Ministry official is on holiday in July and the judge is on holiday in
August. It remains unclear whether the repeated delays are a deliberate attempt
to drag out the case until the end of the year, when the deadline for
reregistration expires and religious organisations that had registration under the
pre-1997 law on religion but which have failed to achieve reregistration `must
be liquidated' (see KNS 30 March 2000). One of the church's lawyers has told
Keston he believes the local Ministry of Justice is trying to pass responsibility
to the court.

The Church of Christ, led by Pastor VLADIMIR TITOV and based in
Cheboksary, the capital of the Republic of Chuvashia 750 kilometres east of
Moscow, is a member of the Calvary Community association, which is itself a
member of the Russian Unified Union of Christians of Evangelical Faith
(Pentecostals) led by SERGEI RYAKHOVSKY.

VALERI VAZYUKOV, the head of the department for the registration of
juridical persons in the Ministry of Justice who brought the case to liquidate the
church, and the judge, VADIM YAKOVLEV, have proposed to the church's
pastor that he should agree voluntarily to liquidate the church, promising to
then register the community under a new name. `You will never achieve
reregistration,' Vazyukov promised the church, `so isn't it easier to liquidate
yourselves and then to create a new organisation?'

Vazyukov told Keston by telephone from Cheboksary on 29 June that the
church had already been given a written warning about violations he claims it
had committed, adding that as the church had not contested this warning he
took it as proof that it admitted these charges. Reregistration cannot take place
until after an official challenge to the warning in court, Vazyukov declared,
pointing out that very little time now remains before the reregistration deadline
of the end of the year. This was why, he said, he had proposed the idea of
liquidation and then registration as a newly-created organisation. `I proposed
the best option to them but they dug their heels in and rejected it.'

Vazyukov claimed that his proposal to the church to agree to liquidation
without the need to go to court had been made independently of the judge. He
claimed to have been surprised when Yakovlev proposed this option to Pastor
Titov when the three of them met on 8 June. `He did not consult me, but asked
me: If they come to register another organisation, will you oppose them? I
replied, No, I will register them normally. I told him I had also thought of this
myself.'

During their visit to Cheboksary the two Moscow-based lawyers representing
the church, ANATOLI PCHELINTSEV and VLADIMIR RYAKHOVSKY of
the Slavic Centre for Law and Justice, met the deputy Justice Minister of
Chuvashia, SERGEI SMIRNOV. Ryakhovsky told Keston on 29 June that he
and his colleague had told Smirnov that they were convinced the case against
the church was groundless. They informed him of similar cases they had won
in court, that of the Word of Life Pentecostal Church in Magadan (see KNS 15
June 1999) and the Christian Centre in Kirov (see KNS 7 February 2000), and
observed that the case against the Church of Christ did nothing to improve the
image of the Ministry of Justice. However, the Ministry's position remained
unchanged: the court should resolve the matter. `They are shuffling off
responsibility,' claims Ryakhovsky, adding that `they are under pressure from
the special services.' (END)

Copyright (c) 2000 Keston Institute. All rights reserved.